Thinking back to our first dive in the Great Barrier Reef, which took place this time last year, I think we forgot to mention we’re now officially certified scuba divers!
While living in Cairns, I realised we were spoiled for choice between the number of incredible reef and dive sites. As the place that inspired me to try diving, I thought it would also be the best spot to learn.
Scuba Diving For Beginners
For anyone who has not been scuba diving before, you can try what’s called an ‘Introductory/Resort Dive’. You don’t need a qualification for this kind of dive, but you will need to complete a medical form to make sure diving is safe for you. An intro dive lasts up to 30 minutes, fully guided with an instructor. It can go as deep as 10 metres, which although sounds frightening, you are still very close to the surface.
Matt and I completed 3 intro dives in the Great Barrier Reef: The first took place in February 2018 on Island Diver (a Cairns Dive Centre boat), the other two were completed in July 2018 on Passions of Paradise.
On both trips, I was amazed at the beauty of the reef, and especially at the fact that I was breathing underwater – but our dive experiences were limited. There were times when we were told to hold on to an instructor and swim with them. Diving laws in Queensland are known for being very strict, but so as to protect all divers and instructors.
I understand this is meant as a safety precaution, but nonetheless, it limited my dive experience and it was infuriating. At the end of the trip, I always wanted more: more time underwater, more depth and more independence.
What is PADI?
PADI stands for ‘Professional Association of Diving Instructors’ and is the leading scuba diver training organisation in the world. Their motto, ‘The Way The World Learns To Dive’, reflects both their knowledge about diving and global popularity.
There are many courses you can take to advance your scuba diving skills, but you must first have the basic qualification: ‘Open Water’.
It typically takes 4 days to complete an Open Water course, and consists of three main phases:
Knowledge Development: To understand basic principles of scuba diving
Confined Water Dives: To learn basic scuba skills
Open Water Dives: To use your skills and explore
The first two days are spent in a classroom and training facility, learning about dive theory and practising in a controlled environment (a swimming pool). The last two days are spent practising in open water, and at a greater depth.
Completing a PADI Open Water Course with Cairns Dive Centre
It didn’t take much convincing for us to sign up to a PADI Open Water Course. I was ready to learn how to dive solo, and spend more time underwater!
We chose to complete the course with Cairns Dive Centre (CDC), the company who first introduced me to diving. What’s unique about their course, compared to others in Cairns, it that the last two days spent in the Great Barrier Reef would be different locations: Day 3 would take place off Fitzroy Island, and Day 4 would be further into the Outer Great Barrier Reef (location confirmed on the day).
Classroom Theory and Pool Dives
At 8am, we were picked up and brought over to the CDC office on Abbott Street to complete some paperwork. Our Scuba Instructor, Joey, introduced herself, along with everyone we would be completing the theory and pool training with. As it turns out, each of us was from a different country:
Joey – Hong Kong
Jonas – Norway
Lucia – Spain
Daphne – Netherlands
Marlene – France
Yseult – Belgium
Matt – England
Ally – Canada
If you’ve completed the course, you know the videos are long and boring, but the information is very important. As it turns out, these hand signals are wrong…
Finally it was time to go in the pool, but first, two swim tests: 200-meter swim (6 laps) around the pool and 10 minutes of treading water. During this time, we learned that many certified scuba divers will purchase and use their own gear, but for the duration of our Open Water course, everything was supplied by CDC. First step: Set up. We were required to set up and take everything apart 5 times, before putting it on.
Finally, with our gear on, we spent the rest of the day at the bottom of the pool. There was an assortment of skills we had to practice and show, including removing/refitting gear underwater, breathing using someone else’s equipment and controlling buoyancy.
In addition to mastering these skills in the pool, we had to complete a final exam. This PADI exam covered everything we learned in the classroom and consisted of 50 questions. Thankfully, Matt and I both passed. With classroom, pool and exams out of the way, it was time to move to open water. Thanks, Joey!!
Open Water Days (3-4)
Unfortunately, we had to split our course, because I was unable to get 4 days off in a row from work. As it turned out, organising our last two Open Water days proved to be very difficult. Like the PADI classroom days, CDC’s Open Water reef days only run a few times a week. It took a while, but thankfully we were able to lock in around min-November.
We were picked up from Calypso at 6:45am, along with three other girls from our hostel, and made our way to the marina. Our new instructor, Marien, had a passion for diving that made everyone very excited!
Of the two Open Water days spent in the Great Barrier Reef, the first day on Fitzroy Island was my favourite. Diving off the island was more challenging than expected, because of the low visibility. There were times on our two dives when we lost Marien, and had to rely solely on our dive instruments. Also, Matt had to wear a funny looking smurf suit.
On our second day, we completed two more dives, that were longer and deeper than what we had practised on Fitzroy Island. We went to a depth of 17m and were underwater for close to an hour. Having completed all the required skills in the first dive, we were able to relax and explore more on the second.
With the dives finished, we took off our gear, filled out our log books and celebrated: We were officially certified scuba divers!
I’d like to thank Cairns Dive Centre, and both our instructors, Joey and Marien. We learned so much from our time together, and now look forward to diving all over the world! We’ll carry around our dive cards with pride, and continue to be respectful of the ocean. Although we have no immediate plans to dive, we hope to one day see the SS Yongala in Townsville, Australia.